In 2018, Steven Spielberg directed Ready Player One, a movie adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel, set in the future where most of humanity spend most of their lives in the OASIS – an immersive virtual universe – to escape the harshness of their everyday existence. In 2021, Mark Zuckerberg announced his intention to bring his version of the Metaverse to the masses – an online world where you can play games, buy clothes, watch concerts, hang out with friends in a coffee shop, and even work.

Are we ready for the Metaverse? Are we already part of a Metaverse? What is the Metaverse?

The Metaverse is a cool buzzword made popular ever since Zuckerberg’s keynote speech at Connect in October 2021, and Facebook’s subsequent rebranding to Meta. It doesn’t currently exist, but the idea has been around for a very long time, even before Stephenson’s 1992 novel hit the bookshelves. Everyone has a slightly different idea of what the Metaverse is, or rather more appropriately, what it could be. The fundamental concept, however, is of a virtual online world you can log into, to roam freely as an avatar, being whoever you want to be, doing whatever you want to do, and connecting with anyone else from anywhere else. 

Sound familiar? Well, it should. Gamers have long since experienced a 2D version of a Metaverse with online play in games like Fortnite and Roblox. There have also been augmented reality (AR) games, like Pokémon Go, available since 2016, as well as a plethora of virtual reality (VR) experiences with the use of VR headsets. All of these are separate entities with no cross-over, mostly entertainment, and in the case of VR not readily accessible from your own home (although this is gradually becoming less so).

The future Metaverse would see interoperability between these and many other platforms, meaning your avatar could go from one world to another freely and without any loss of form or function. Why is that important? Well, if you’re going to commit lots of time (and money) to create an avatar, you don’t want it to be locked into one place, and creating a different avatar for each different platform would be tedious. Analysis of crypto transactions suggests people gravitate towards decentralized public Blockchains rather than centralized systems or even permission Blockchains. It is highly likely this trend will continue, although the future may be more fluid, and the norm will be a world of multi-Blockchains. The Metaverse will need to be built on this open system, with the incorporation of NFTs and cryptocurrency exchange.

Whether the Metaverse remains a completely open platform or becomes splintered into different locked worlds owned by big corporations like Meta, Microsoft, Google, and others, only time will tell. However, if history has taught us anything it is that corporate greed will always succumb to the inevitable lure of monetization.

Other Uses for the Metaverse

If you think the Metaverse is just for gaming, you’d be mistaken. The potential for its uses is huge. Part of Zuckerberg’s keynote address was the possibility to work in the Metaverse too, seamlessly blending remote working with on-site working. There has already been notable progress in this area. Last month, Professor Shafi Ahmed, Chief Medical Officer at Medical Realities and cancer Surgeons, delivered a medical lecture in the Metaverse at a UK university. The students were able to participate interactively in the lecture, much more so than could have been possible otherwise. Following the success of this first-of-a-kind lecture, Professor Ahmed plans to deliver more lectures in the Metaverse over the next 6 months.

If work and play don’t interest you, how about becoming a virtual property tycoon? Decentraland and the Sandbox are Metaverses in which you can buy virtual real estate to build anything you wish upon it – a clothes store, an art gallery, a casino. In theory, you could then charge other users entry fees, or sell them goods (as NFTs). Sales would be conducted in crypto and recorded on the Blockchain. There has already been a huge investment in virtual land sold as NFTs. In November 2021 Republic Realm bought $4.3 million worth of land in the Sandbox, whilst in January 2022 bought land for $2.5million in Decentraland. Barbados became the first sovereign nation to establish an embassy in the Metaverse after it sealed a deal with Decentraland in November 2021. The Caribbean Island also plans to build more embassies with other Metaverse platforms.

Accessing the Metaverse

Accessing the Metaverse will require some specialist equipment, chiefly AR/VR headsets. You might be able to access the Metaverse without them, but you definitely wouldn’t be able to get the full immersive experience. Despite the continued advances in this tech, headsets are still large and cumbersome. YouTube is saturated with videos of people tripping and slipping, damaging property and even themselves. Making the headsets smaller, safer and cheaper will be a huge challenge, and a key aspect to the Metaverse truly taking over our lives.

That being said, there is an ongoing battle between several big companies to bring affordable AR/VR headsets to market. Apple has been investing heavily in research and development which could see a new product launched in 2022. Google, which began developing VR headsets a decade ago, is engineering a new AR headset expected in 2024. Microsoft is also in the mix, with their AR headset HoloLens. However, with a price tag of over $3000.00 it is aimed at businesses, such as healthcare and manufacturing for now. The Meta Oculus Quest 2 was a popular Christmas stocking filler in 2021, and seems to be leading the pack at the moment.

Privacy and Safety in the Metaverse

Privacy and safety in the Metaverse are major concerns and with good reason. The internet, and especially social media, is rife with misinformation, fake news, bullying, racism, sexism, and hate speech. Tech and social media companies have struggled to eradicate these from their platforms, so how do they expect to succeed in policing a more expansive digital world like the Metaverse? And what of privacy? Meta has patented technology to track pupil and body movements, with the aim of personalizing your experience with specific adverts. How much of your personal data will you be forced to share and how will it be safeguarded? At present, very little is known about how privacy and safety will be controlled in the Metaverse, so this will be an area that will continue to divide people and evoke passionate debate.

Are we nearly there yet?

When will the Metaverse be open? Is there a Metaverse coin? Or where to buy this Metaverse coin? If there is. How to join the Metaverse? No one really knows for sure, but by all accounts, it seems to be a matter of when not if. There are so many moving parts and so many different players jostling to be a founding member of the Metaverse that it probably won’t be ready for many years or even decades to come (certainly not in the way Stephenson or Spielberg envisioned). It’s also highly unlikely there will be a definitive starting point (like the launch date of a new iPhone). What’s more likely is the Metaverse will evolve organically and expand continuously, incorporating more technology and more consumerism as it grows.

In the near future, there will be huge digital 3D worlds to explore, work in, play, relax and spend all your hard-earned money. One day, humans will reminisce a life without the Metaverse, but simultaneously not be able to pinpoint quite exactly when it all began.

By: Alvin Michael

The views and opinions expressed herein are the author’s and are not intended to be used as advice to trade on the crypto markets.